Easter in Glenbrittle, Isle of Skye

Whilst most people tied up loose ends at work before the Easter weekend I took a flight to Inverness with Rob and Liz, hired a car and soon found ourselves in the remote Highlands on our way to Skye. In search of dinner we stopped at Ledgowen Hotel which due to lack of trade had closed the kitchen early so we drove round the hills to Kinlochewe Hotel where they had also stopped serving but were able to construct 3 sandwiches. Not the haggis, neeps and tatties we’d been fantasising about, but it was that or go to bed hungry. We arrived at Gerry’s Hostel around 9:30pm. After the tour we put a record on the turntable and imbibed a dram of whiskey by the roaring fire – we’d arrived in Scotland!

Day 1 – Good Friday 30th March
Peaks – Carn Odhar
Companions – Rob and Liz
Distance – 5.8mi (9.3km)
Ascent – 1660 ft (506m)
Pubs – none

We weren’t able to check in at the Skye hostel until later in the afternoon so planned to do a local walk near the hostel. We left the car at Achnashellach station, walked over the level crossing and headed up the forestry track. The views up and down Lochcarron were stunning. Looking east were snow capped mountains, looking west was the loch and onward views towards Skye. For a brief stint we were retracing the route that I took on my LEJOG walk – I tried not to bore my walking companions with commentary; ‘ooh when I was here I stopped at that rock for some sandwiches’! We turned off the forestry track and struck out across a pathless bog up to the top of Carn Odhar and soaked up the views of the Beinn Liath Mhór, Sgorr Ruadh and Fuar Tholl in dappled sun.

The very photogenic mountain range

We descended to the west avoiding crags and scree, and met an established path leading down to the forest and the station. It was a pleasant stroll and a good appetiser before the main course on Skye.

Day 2 – Saturday 31st March
Peaks – Bealach Coire na Banachdich
Companions – Kevin, Rob and Lisa
Distance – 5.8mi (9.3km)
Ascent – 2808ft (856m)
Pubs – none

With the weather due to be settled for the whole day the majority of Rockhoppers set off early for the Cuillin ridge. Not being a climber or experienced winter hill walker my only ambition in the current winter conditions was to reach the ridge and 3 others shared this aim so off we went. The walk started a short stroll down the valley beyond the Mountain Rescue Hut and would be in three distinct sections; a long gentle path up the first 300m of vertical ascent, the middle 300m ascent would be steeper and involve some scrambling and the last section would be on steep hard snow/ice.

Section 2 on the way up Coire na Banachdich
Rob on the last section

It all went to plan and sporting crampons and ice axes we reached the bealach shortly after noon just as the cloud lifted off the tops.  The bealach was narrow and potentially corniced so we made a relatively quick decision that as a group we had reached our limits. After a couple of photos we started descending the way we had come. I was not at all dispirited, I had made it to the Cuillin ridge in winter – an achievement not to be underestimated. Highlights included; the waterfall, the view from the bealach and returning to the base of the snowline unscathed!

View over the bealach

We were back at the hostel in plenty of time to relax, have tea and cake (or beer and crisps) before the majority arrived back. When they did, the usual cacophony erupted with everyone sharing tales of the day. There had been 9 Rockhoppers on the In. Pinn. at once – could that be a record?!

In the evening a few of us drove up the valley to watch the sun set over the Cuillin – well worth it!

Sunset on the Cuillin

Day 3 – Easter Sunday 1st April
Peaks – Sgurr na Stri
Companions – Lisa, Catherine, Giulia and Anne
Distance – 15.1mi (24.3km)
Ascent –  2414ft (736m)
Pubs – Sligachan Hotel

For some, the Cuillin is their playground so off they went to tackle it again, I would be satisfied with a longer and lower walk.  It had been a cold night with a hard frost right down to the valley so it required some time and effort to clear the windscreens. Sgurr na Stri is a modest hill (494m) and a well known beauty spot which provides fantastic views of the Cuillin and the sea loch at it’s base which leads the eye out to Rum. We started at the Sligachan Hotel which was crawling with visitors and tour buses but the crowds were soon behind us.  Luckily the 7mile walk-in puts off a large number of tourists!

Cloud capped Cuillin

It was a glorious morning; t-shirt weather. We passed a few people on their way out who had camped at Sgurr na Stri but didn’t see anyone else until we reached the top when a group of a dozen plus a few others emerged.  I thought we’d have the place to ourselves but it was like Piccadilly Circus up there! And for good reason.  It feels very remote, rugged and the views are stunning.

View from Sgurr na Stri

After a few snaps and snacks we began the walk back and who should we bump into? Only Marcus – another Rockhopper who spent Easter on Raasay and was backpacking around Skye independently.  As we were catching up it starting spitting and then raining/sleeting so we said goodbye and set off for the pub! It rained for about 20mins but then the sun came back out – fours seasons in one day!

Atop Sgurr na Stri

Day 4 – Easter Monday 2nd April
Peaks – The Storr and Quiraing
Companions – Rob, Lisa and Simon
Distance – 7.5mi (12km)
Ascent – 2688ft (819m)
Pubs – none

It was a relatively lazy morning and by mid-morning Rob, Lisa, Simon and I had decided to totter off to Trotternish to hit some of the Skye tourist hot spots; The Old Man of Storr and the Quiraing.  It’s a stiff climb up from the car park to the base of the needle-like structure (to around 450m) and the path is crawling with visitors in jeans and trainers.  We feel a little over prepared in hiking boots with ice axes and crampons strapped to our rucksacks, but could be vindicated when we reach The Storr – the hill that looms over the Old Man.

The Old Man of Storr and The Storr

There is a clear line – a fence and stile – which few tourists venture beyond, when we do we turn west, and the wind and wind chill pick up.  Extra layers adorned we opt for the long route to the top. About halfway up the ground became frozen with small snow patches but it’s still easily passable.

Me on the Storr

Strong and cold winds meant we didn’t hang about much longer than the time it took to inhale a sandwich. On descending, we overshot the burn but not by much and after scrambling down the gorge we were soon back at the base of the cliffs. Once back to the car we drove further north to the see the Quiraing.  If you park at the top of the ridge it’s only 1-2km along a terraced path to the other worldly rock features. To me the Trotternish ridge looks like a series of waves that are just about to break – gentle rolling grass slopes to the west, cliffs (or wave crests) facing east.

View of the Trotternish Ridge from the Quiraing

And that concludes a rather fantastic Easter weekend on Skye, oh except a brief wander up the cascade of waterfalls opposite the hostel on the last morning. The clear pools would be refreshing on a summers day (some crazy people had been for a dip) but I wasn’t prepared to find out quite how cold the water was, I’ll save that for another time.

Not the Fairy Pools

Total: 4 days, 34.2 miles, 9570 feet of ascent and 1 pub.

Grange, Borrowdale, Jan 2018

The drive up was smooth (made a nice change, my usual experience of driving to the Lakes involves a lot of stand still traffic) and all 15 of us more or less arrived together. We were staying at the Climbers’ Club hut which usually has spare beds for members, but we’d booked all 13 (+2 campers). We arrived around midnight and after we’d been crashing about for a while a sleepy and bashful looking guy came downstairs and apologised for not having checked the roster so Dayne volunteered to sleep on the sofa, quickly defusing the situation.

Day 1 – Saturday 13th Jan
Peaks – Maiden Moor, High Spy, Dale Head, Hindscarth, Robinson
Companions – Kevin, Katrina, Rob, Alfonso, Monica
Distance – 9.6mi (15.5km)
Ascent – 3,736ft (1,140m)
Pubs – Swinside Inn and Scafell Hotel walkers bar

Most awoke early and got on with getting ready to head out (I was last up at 8:30) but I was extremely organised on Thursday night and had not only planned my food for the weekend but already made up my lunch so knew I could afford to be a bit lazy. Over breakfast plans were made; one group were off to find some ice to climb, another up to the top of England, a couple of individuals wanted to walk alone and the rest of us decided on the nearby Newlands Horseshoe (minus Catbells). We drove to Little Town and then headed up to the col between Catbells and Bull Crag. The ascent was initially very sheltered but the wind picked up a little once we were on the tops. The view across Derwent Water up towards Keswick was stunning, with just a small amount of low, thin cloud – much better than expected.

View along Derwent Water

We continued up to Bull Crag, stopping briefly behind a crag for some refreshments. All was still and quiet until we peeled ourselves away and got out from behind the rocks where the head wind blasted us. It wasn’t overwhelming so we pushed on up to High Spy and down the other side towards Dalehead Tarn. Unfortunately it was here that Monica and Alfonso decided to take the escape route down from the tarn back towards Little Town. We’d see them back at the hut later. Six became four and we had to climb the staircase up to Dale Head. The views back to High Spy took us by surprise, from here it looked like a long dramatic ridge but whilst up there it felt reasonably short and rounded. We walked into cloud but it was relatively thin and there were breaks, and the wind picked up briefly but it was still manageable.

Team at the top

The rest of the ridge was straightforward and we decided to make the diversion up to Hindscarth and back, with a lunch stop en route with my new favourite hot toddy: lemon and ginger tea with whiskey. The last climb was up to Robinson and my legs were starting to feel a bit heavy. At the top we had a new set of views. All the way along this walk we had new views at every corner which made it even more enjoyable. Up here some pools of water had frozen absolutely solid and it was possible to walk on them, and glide around. Standing in a star shape with my back to the wind I got nudged across the ice by the wind!

Walking on water

Now for the decent, not a long valley decent but a short sharp – part scramble – down the nose. We happened to take the route back to the hut which took us past the Swinside Inn so we thought it would be rude not to stop by for a swift libation (soft for me as I’m doing dry-ish January; no beer or wine). Later on in the evening we returned to a regular haunt; the walkers bar at the Scafell Hotel in Rosthwaite. It appears to have changed hands, the walls have been painted, the ‘look’ refreshed and the menu re-written. Unfortunately it’s changed for the worse, it appears that another traditional pub has bitten the dust and turned ‘gastro’. Sigh.

Day 2 – Sunday 14th Jan
Peaks – Grisedale Pike
Companions – Kevin, Alfonso, Monica
Distance – 7.2mi (11.6km)
Ascent – 2,897ft (885m)
Pubs – none ☹️

Car packed and goodbyes said (weekends go too quickly), Rob who had work to do, dropped us in Braithwaite on his way to a coffee shop in Keswick. We set off with the vague intention to bag Grisedale Pike, Hopegill Head and Sand Hill. It was a long and relentless ascent and I was certainly feeling slightly leaden booted after yesterday as we marched up the side of the hill. The further we went the colder it got, the windier, wetter, snowier and cloudier it got. Plus the terrain got a bit more challenging. It changed from a broad grassy track to a narrow, rock and slate path. Towards the very top the ground was also becoming frozen.

Another view of Derwent

Once we reached the summit the wind was blasting the hail into our faces (when a fleck hit you right in the eye it did sting a touch), the visibility was poor and it was cold. Needless to say we didn’t hang about and continued on. Part way to the col we decided that the weather was taking the fun out of it so we cut across the lower slopes of Sand Hill to skip out the remaining two peaks. As soon as we started to descend the weather improved and we had great views down the valley.

Kevin on the way back down

It was an interesting route back to Braithwaite with waterfalls and a disused quarry. Rob’s timing was perfect so we all hopped straight in the car and hit the road back to London.

Total: 2 days, 16.8 miles, 6,633 feet of ascent and 2 pubs.


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